When it comes to planning a business event, there are plenty of potential slip-ups that can get in the way of a successful meeting. Some of the world’s best event planners have already been there — and happily for you, they’re willing to share their knowledge to help others learn from their experiences.
Here are some of the biggest slip-ups event planners are likely to come across, and how to avoid them:
Meeting Misstep #1: Start late
Anne Thornley-Brown, President of Executive Oasis International and regular contributor to the Cvent blog, ranks starting late as one of her top event planning peeves. When combined with a lack of flexibility or margin for error over the meeting schedule, there’s “little chance of recovery” in Anne’s book.
Prevention is better than cure, and Anne recommends a number of ways to get late meetings back on track should the worst happen. Among them, she advises meeting planners proactively discuss the possibility of late arrivals with the venue and come up with a back-up plan. Communication is important, so make sure you keep all members of the meeting informed and, if necessary, decide which agenda items can be scrapped in favor of pushing ahead with the priorities.
While we’re on the topic, Anne’s excellent post on how to keep agendas on track is well worth a read. Here’s the skinny:
- Avoid meetings for the sake of meetings, especially when a video or conference call will suffice.
- Always — ALWAYS — have an agenda, even if it’s scribbled down 5 minutes before the meeting.
- Prioritize agenda items. This allows participants to disconnect from the meeting when no longer needed, and also means less-important items can be sacrificed in the event of a late start.
- Meeting agendas work best when they are timed. Assign a specific timeframe for each agenda item and recruit a (strict) timekeeper. Their job is to keep the agenda on track.
- Assign a notetaker. They should summarize key decisions, tasks, assignees and deadlines, and share these responsibilities with the rest of the group in a follow-up summary.
Meeting Misstep #2: Leave your tech until the last minute
Presentation projectors and big screens are just the tip of the technology iceberg. Meetings differ enormously — from small team gatherings and board meetings to corporate conferences and hackathons — and each event requires its own specific technology. Ergo, you shouldn’t assume that your chosen venue has all the exact equipment you need.
Among the most important technical requirements listed by tech expert Joe Heaps and Dave Reed of eSpeakers Marketplace are:
- Mobile-friendly event materials, such as agendas and programs;
- High-grade, venue-wide Internet access with bandwidth capable of accommodating all delegates (an absolute must);
- Videoconferencing or webcasting capabilities;
- Social media promotion before and during the event, including on-the-day Twitter hashtag.
Guess what? All of these elements take time to research, organize and set-up. Many meeting spaces available through Alliance Virtual have audio conferencing equipment and basic collaboration materials, but not every venue has videoconferencing capabilities. A third party can usually bring them in, but venue operators need advance notice in order to source appropriate facilities within your timeframe and budget.
In the words of Audiolinks, which penned this great post on common event planning mistakes: “Just as your audience needs time to make room for your event in their schedules, the vendor supplying your audio and visual gear needs time to assemble your equipment, transport it to your venue, set it up and make sure it’s working properly.
“Typically, you should allow at least two weeks to ensure everything you need is in stock and ready to ship. This also allows you to find a backup rental company in case your first choice is unable to supply what you need.”
Meeting Misstep #3: Trust to luck
You know what they say about Murphy’s Law. In the words of the Institute of Event Management, “If anything can go wrong, it probably will.” Last minute surprises tend to come about by a lack of planning or foresight from the event organizer, which is why an event risk assessment should be carried out during the event planning process, well ahead of time.
Among the possible scenarios you may have to plan for, bad weather is one unwelcome guest that has the power to, erm, rain on your parade. It could lead to the late arrival of delegates and speakers; it could slow the arrival of equipment or catering, and it could even force your venue to close. In the event of cancellation, how will you quickly contact all of your guests? Have you covered cancellations and schedule changes in your Terms & Conditions? Do you have a list of back-up venues and suppliers? Is there room in your budget to account for these sudden additional costs?
To avoid nasty surprises, the Institute recommends setting some time aside to brainstorm possible scenarios that could derail the event. Then follow up with a series of back-up solutions that can be put in place to mitigate those risks. “This exercise doesn’t take a long time, and it’s enormously helpful in understanding the weak links before planning even gets underway.”